In Hanoi, crossing the street is a dance. Motorcycles don’t stop but they dodge and even more when it rains, they don’t want to get wet.
On motorcycles they fit two, three and four people and they squeeze between cars, buses and people by opposite lanes and they respect neither the crosswalks nor the traffic lights.
So in the capital of Vietnam and, in general, throughout the country, one has to know how to dance.
As the locals do with their Nón La – or Vietnamese conical hat – and the Thung Chai – or basket – leaning on the shoulders as they walk along the sides of the street.
Hanoi, apart from a built-up jungle – in which vines become a compact cable that distributes telephone and light -, it is also the capital of Vietnam since 1010, and it was the administrative centre of the French colony from 1802 until 1940, when it was occupied by the Japanese until 1945.
It is for this reason that buildings of different cultures and religions coexist in the city, such as the Tran Quoc pagoda – of the Vietnamese monarch Ly Nam -, the Thang Long citadel, the One Pillar Pagoda – of different Chinese dynasties – or the temple of literature and the temple of the Jade mountain – of the Confucian and Taoist currents of thought -.
There is also Hanoi Cathedral and the Opera House – of French colonization – and the mausoleum where the remains of the Vietnamese revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh rest.
In Hanoi’s old town, Western normality is questioned again and again.
The Vietnamese sit on little blue stools to eat their bowl of noodles for breakfast, lunch and dinner in restaurants located in the chaotic environment of a city that wakes up at 5 in the morning and never stops.
There is a street called Trân Phù, better known as the street of the train.
In this narrow street that crosses Hanoi, citizens sell their handicrafts, cook food for their tiny restaurants and hang clothes on the third floor of their houses, chickens relax in the middle of the train tracks enjoying the morning absence of the children and in the afternoon, the little ones flutter after school. On the contrary, twice a day, everybody stops their activities to make way for the train.
In the meanwhile, in another part of the city, a man contemplates, for hours, the building in front of him as if it were the horizon, in a chair so small that his knees are bent and brush his face.
On the street, a woman carries two wicker baskets where she gathers the garbage and cleans the sidewalks.
The receptionist of my hotel has the little fingers’ nail very long and someone tells me with all naturalness, that it is to open the cans or, to put the finger in the nose.
Motorcycles carry as many passengers as they fit in the vehicle and go without helmets even if the law prevents it.
It is also shocking that the normal or the habit, checks and kills a written paper, and this freedom is breathed by the antipollution masks of passers-by.